By Frank Hill
It drives Catholics and other church-goers bonkers.
For good reason. It goes against the very essence of who we are as Americans as you will soon see...
The Catholics were understandably upset over the forced mandate of contraceptives being included on any health care plan offered by the Catholic Church to any of its millions of people across the nation or group plans offered through any of its entities. That goes against their religious belief that contraceptives are not acceptable to use as for family-planning purposes.
But Protestant religious groups across the nation were irate as well, even though their denominations accept the use of contraceptives for family-planning.
What gives? What was at the heart of this enervated opposition to President Obama's health care policy?
We think this edict bore right through the mantle of the often-shallow American political game and went right through to the magma of what it means to be an American. It is worth examining just so everyone understands where it came from.
What people with religious faith vehemently disagree with is the heavy-handed intrusion of the power of the federal government into matters of their faith. If there is anything that is a core American principle, it is the protection of everyone's right to believe, or not believe for that matter, in any particular religion.
It is a clearly enunciated right in the US Constitution. The Constitution speaks of religion in two phrases: The first is the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;'.
The second is Article VI: '...but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.' Go tell that to Mitt Romney.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is about it for the Constitutional language on religion and religious freedom.
There are 3 other 'foundational' documents, however, that you need to be aware of and understand whenever it comes to religious freedom issues in America, even though they are not in the US Constitution.
The Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, penned by Thomas Jefferson in 1779.
The Danbury Baptists Letter to President Thomas Jefferson in October, 1801.
President Thomas Jefferson's Response to the Danbury Baptists on January 1, 1802.
Click on the links above and take a look at these important American documents. It is simply impossible to come away with any other conclusion than the fact that Thomas Jefferson, speaking on the behalf of many of the Revolutionaries and Patriots of the day, wanted to make painfully clear that one of the prime motivations for fighting the War for Independence and establishing the new Republic was to guarantee the free exercise of religion without ANY interference or hindrance or mandate from the federal government. Whatsoever. Ever.
Jefferson's language in the Virginia Statute is rife with 'liberty' and 'freedom' words and themes written in only a way that he seemed able to and catch the spirit of the human need to be able to worship freely without any interference from anyone or any state-sponsored government.
The point to keep in mind as you read these documents is that paramount in their minds was the experience of the state-sponsored Anglican Church of England as well as the state-sponsored Anglican Church of Virginia in colonial and post-revolutionary war days.
Did you know that you could not hold office in the Commonwealth of Virginia unless you were a solid Anglican or Episcopalian in good standing? Not only that, taxes were collected from the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia to support, you guessed it, The Anglican Church of Virginia! The word 'antidisestablishmentarianism' comes from the political battles in England and Virginia over the 'disestablishment' of the Church 'from' the state.
Can you imagine that? Collecting taxes today to support any church in your state, be it Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim or Rastafarian?
Jefferson and his founding brothers rejected that notion for the new Republic in 1789. His response to the Danbury Baptists was written to assure them that he had no interest or desire as President to do anything that would be construed or mis-construed as recognizing or establishing any particular religion as the 'state-sponsored' religion of the new federal government.
The Danbury Baptists were aggrieved just like the Virginia Baptists or Methodists must have been in the sense that they were not allowed to hold public office and participate fully in the new republic's business.
Jefferson's letter back to them sought to assure them of his independence in this issue and he included this phrase: '...thus building a wall of separation between Church & State' to emphasize his understanding that the state should not impose a state-sponsored religion on anyone anywhere in this nation.
That phrase has been noodled, dissected, mis-represented and mis-handled ever since then by parties on all sides of various issues, depending on whether it suited their political purposes or not.
This is the landmine that the Obama Administration stepped on which has blown up in their face. It flies in the face of the American experience that any President or Congress can tell any religious group what to do and that includes whether the Catholic Church has to offer coverage for contraceptives or not in their offering of insurance plans.
Reading some of the foundational documents might actually be helpful to everyone involved, wouldn't you agree?
(Editor's Note: Frank Hill's resumé includes working as chief of staff for Senator Elizabeth Dole and Congressman Alex McMillan, serving on the House Budget Committee and serving on the Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform. He takes on politics from a fiercely independent perspective at the blog Telemachus).